The Duck of Minerva

Debate reaction – Nexon

27 September 2008

Peter’s already made some good points about the debate, but I thought I would weigh in as well.

I should start out with a confession. I’m a politics junkie and an international affairs geek. But I was bored stiff by this debate. And if even I was bored stiff, I imagine a lot of people out there tuned out of the debate before it ended.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me turn to some quick impressions.

Worst Moments

Obama: “Well, let me just make a closing point. You know, my father came from Kenya. That’s where I get my name….” And so began a weak, weird, and incongruous statement that, as best I can tell, was a flubbed attempt to say something about American soft power.

McCain: “And I — and I honestly don’t believe that Senator Obama has the knowledge or experience and has made the wrong judgments in a number of areas, including his initial reaction to Russian invasion — aggression in Georgia, to his — you know…” Not only did McCain trip over a tacit admission that Georgia started the conflict, but his attack on Obama’s experience fell flat insofar as he delivered them after a long and serious debate between the two men. In trumpeting his own experience, McCain made the point much more effectively than when he accused Obama of being a young whippersnapper.

Collective: is Georgia joining Israel in the pantheon of allies that all politicians have to pledge their fealty to? As much as I want the best for the country and its people, Georgia is not Israel. And the infighting amongst the one-time Orange Coalition, for that matter, is a reason not to rush them into NATO.

Best Moments

McCain: “So let me get this right. We sit down with Ahmadinejad, and he says, “We’re going to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth,” and we say, “No, you’re not”? Oh, please.” Nice line on a dispute that, to be frank, amounts to more sound than fury. Neither an Obama nor a McCain Administration is is likely to differ radically from one another when it comes to meeting with, or not meeting with, our adversaries.

Obama: “Now here’s what we need to do. We do need tougher sanctions. I do not agree with Senator McCain that we’re going to be able to execute the kind of sanctions we need without some cooperation with some countries like Russia and China that are, I think Senator McCain would agree, not democracies, but have extensive trade with Iran but potentially have an interest in making sure Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon.” And herein lies one of the key problems with the League of Justice Democracies proposal.

Collective: the features that made this debate boring also, in many ways, reflected well on the two candidates. It isn’t surprising that they both maintain high favorability ratings at this point in the campaign.

Who won?

McCain, by a hair. He was smoother, spoke with more authority, and dominated the debate once it turned to foreign policy. But this was a narrow victory on points, and I suspect that the McCain campaign would’ve liked more than that.

Who lost?

The pundits, who may have to actually discuss substance for once (but don’t hold your breath).